Zhuang Ethnic Minority

zhuang minority 01

With an estimated population of approximately 18 million people, the Zhuang are the most populous of all the ethnic minorities in China. Nearly 90% of Zhuang people can be found in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, with smaller constituencies in the provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Hunan. Compared to Mandarin Chinese, which only has 4 tones, their indigenous language has a staggering 8 tones and is closely related to the languages of the Dong, Bouyei and Dai ethnic minorities, as well as the standard Thai of Thailand and the standard Lao of Laos. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, they also boast two different writing systems!

Though nowadays many Zhuang people use the Romanised script that was created in 1957, some locals still use an ancient writing system known as Sawndip or Old Zhuang Script. This system uses Chinese characters but only for their sound value and in some cases new characters have been created by adding or removing strokes from existing Chinese characters. Sawndip was mainly used by shamans to write anything from folktales and myths to songs and medical prescriptions, and has become an invaluable academic resource for people researching Zhuang history. Their most famous literary work, Baeu Rodo, is an epic poem about the creation of the world. It is over 10,000 lines long and phenomenally has been transmitted orally for over 1,000 years!

zhuang minority 02Now I don’t know how far you can trace your family back, but I’m willing to bet that the Zhuang have you beat! According to contemporary archaeological evidence, the Zhuang’s origins can be traced all the way back to the Palaeolithic Age, which occurred over 2.6 million years ago. They were initially conquered by the Han people in 214 BC, during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), and suffered from a tenuous relationship with the imperial government up until the abolishment of imperial rule in 1912.

Frequent peasant revolts broke out in Guangxi primarily because the Zhuang were mistreated by the government and subjugated into a landownership system that favoured the Han authorities but deprived the local Zhuang farmers. This system was abolished when the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) ended and the Zhuang have led a peaceful and largely uninterrupted existence ever since.

zhuang rock paintingThey are thought to be related to the ancient Luoyue people and the earliest indication of this connection can be found among the Rock Paintings of Mount Hua. While the Han people spent their time plotting their domination of China, evidently the Zhuang were far too busy painting! These paintings date back to the Warring States Period (c. 476-221 BC) and cover a colossal length of over 200 kilometres. They are made up of 287 groups of murals that are distributed throughout 183 different places.

The Mother Frog, an ancient deity who looks half-human and half-frog, is a common theme throughout these murals and is almost always painted red. Other motifs include running dogs, birds, bronze drums, the stars, and the sun. In Ningming County, there is one mural that is over 40 metres high and 170 metres wide, meaning it is 10 times as tall as an African elephant, over 3 times as long as an Olympic swimming pool, and the largest of its kind in the world!

zhuang minority ping'anNowadays most Zhuang villagers live in stilted wooden houses known as diaojiaolou. These are two-storey dwellings that are suspended on stilts, with the ground floor being used for storage and the upper floors being used as living spaces. The key difference between the Zhuang diaojiaolou and those of other ethnic minorities is the incorporation of a central room where an ancestral shrine is kept. This shrine is used to worship the family’s ancestors, as well as deities such as the Kitchen God and the God of Wealth. If you want to get to known the Zhuang first-hand, we recommend visiting Ping’an Village or Longji Ancient Zhuang Village in Guangxi.

 

Read more about Zhuang Ethnic Minority:

Traditional Dress       Festivals

 

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave 01

Reed Flute Cave (Ludi Yan) earned its unusual name thanks to the plentiful reeds growing outside of the cave’s entrance that are often used to make flutes or other small wind instruments. The cave is about 5 kilometres northwest of downtown Guilin and the main entrance to the cave is situated on the south side of Guangming Hill or “Bright Light” Hill. Reed Flute Cave is a natural limestone cave that has formed over a period of 180 million years. Although it was only officially opened as a tourist attraction in 1962, it has in fact been a tourist site for over 1,200 years. As a testament to its popularity throughout the years, more than 70 inscriptions have been written in ink on the cave’s walls, some of them dating all the way back to 792 A.D. These inscriptions are evidence that the cave has been a beloved attraction since the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

For many years, the cave remained untouched until, in the 1940s, a group of Chinese refugees fleeing from Japanese troops during World War II came upon the cave and used it as a hiding place. The cave itself is 240 metres long and boasts a glittering array of stalagmites, stalactites, stone columns and bizarre karst formations. All of these fantastically alien shapes have been created by the deposition of calcium carbonate in the water as it trickles through the limestone. When the water hits the floor, it deposits tiny particles of calcium carbonate that eventually grow upwards to form stalagmites. When the water drops from the ceiling of the cave, it leaves behind tiny deposits of calcium carbonate that eventually form stalactites. It is estimated that the stalactites and stalagmites in Reed Flute Cave grow on average about 1 millimetre per year.

Reed Flute Cave 02Visitors enter the cave at Bright Light Hill and follow a U-shaped path that eventually leads them to an exit not far from the entrance of the cave. It takes approximately one hour to make your way through the entire cave at a steady pace. We strongly recommend that you wear appropriate shoes and warm clothes in the cave, as the floor of the cave is wet and muddy and, although it may be warm outside, the cave tends to stay very cool. Inside the cave, the interior has been beautifully lit with differently coloured lights. This myriad of colour illuminating and bouncing off of the strange shapes of the rock gives the cave an almost mystical feel, as if you are travelling through a fairy-tale world.

As you travel through the cave, you’ll come across several rock formations that have been given whimsical names based on their appearance, such as the Dragon Pagoda, Mushroom Hill, the Red Curtain and Pines in the Snow. There is even a rock formation that looks just like the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps the most impressive part of the cave is a grotto known as the Crystal Palace, which is large enough to hold just over 1,000 people. In this grotto, there is a stalagmite that appears to be in the shape of a human being. This stalagmite was once supposedly a visiting scholar who came to Reed Flute Cave with the aim of writing a poem that would perfectly capture its majesty. He spent so long in the cave trying to find the right words for his poem that he eventually turned to stone. There are so many beautiful rock formations such as these in Reed Flute Cave that it is now often referred to as “Nature’s Art Palace”.

Reed Flute Cave 03Unfortunately the cave is so dark that it is very difficult to get any decent photographs within the cave unless you are using specialist photographic equipment. However, at certain stations throughout the cave, such as the Crystal Palace, camera equipment has been set up so that visitors can pay to get their photograph taken near some of the more fantastic rock formations. These photographs, along with the reed flutes which can be purchased at the entrance and exit of the cave, make a wonderful souvenir. At the cave’s exit, a park has been built with many elegant pavilions, crystal clear ponds, wonderfully engraved stone bridges and numerous colourful flowerbeds. It is the ideal place to relax after a long trek through the cave. There are public buses that run between Guilin city and Reed Flute Cave, although they are not very regular so we recommend that you check the bus schedule in advance.

 

 

People’s Park in Nanning

nanning people park

Amongst the many parks in Nanning city, few boast the number of strange and wonderful attractions that People’s Park has. From the bizarrely placed cannon on its slope to the small garden that rests on the surface of the White Dragon Lake, this park features a variety of scenic spots that will appeal to historians, naturalists, and those who simply want a fun day out. The park was established in 1951 and is located in downtown Nanning, so it’s within easy reach if you’re planning a trip to the city.

The People’s Park in Nanning is not to be confused with many of the other “People’s Parks” across China. The term “People’s” Park, or Renmin Park, was popularised in 1949 to express the solidarity and importance of the people during the rise of Communism in China. These parks still stand as a testament to the unity and strength of the Chinese people.

As you enter the gate of the park, you’ll immediately come upon the Wangxian Slope. “Wangxian” literally means “to gaze at immortals” in Chinese and this strange, ethereal hillside, with its thick forest and 10-metre-wide stone steps, is so-called because it directly faces Qingxiu Mountain. Supposedly, if you look out towards the mountain, you may catch sight of Luo Xiu, a scholar from the Jin Dynasty (265-420) who achieved immortality through the practice of Taoist alchemy. We’re not quite sure what he does all day but, if you see him, be sure to give him a polite nod and a wave.

The 141 stone steps leading up the slope symbolise the 91 enterprises that were built after the liberation of China in 1949 and the 50 programs that were settled in 1950. As you ascend the slope, you’ll soon catch sight of the Zhenning Cannon. Originally this site was once an ancestral temple dedicated to six historical figures who had each contributed to the development of Nanning. This temple was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) but was tragically dismantled in 1917 by the warlord Lu Rongting and replaced with a huge cannon. This cannon was made in 1890 by Krupp of Germany and has a firing range of 12,000 meters, although we hope that no one plans to test it again anytime soon. Alongside this cannon, you’ll also find battlements, barracks and forts, which seem rather out of place in this peaceful city park. Yet Lu Rongting’s army weren’t the first to settle in this seemingly idyllic place.

南宁人民公园01According to historical texts from the Southern Song Dynasty, when General Di Qing (1008–1057) went to Guangxi to suppress a rebellion that was happening in the region, he stationed his troops in modern-day People’s Park. When he looked down from Wanxiang Slope, he noticed a strange white figure floating on the surface of the lake. He stared at it long and hard, until a colleague pointed out that it was simply the reflection of a flock of sheep drinking on the bank! The General named it White Dragon Lake, after the shape of the sheep’s reflection. Nowadays there are no dragons, or sheep, hiding in the lake, but there are over 100,000 multi-coloured koi carp in its waters and beautifully carved bridges connecting its many islands and banks. On a warm sunny day, you can take a stroll along the bridges, feed the fish or take a paddleboat out onto the shimmering waters.

In keeping with the military aesthetic, there is also the Revolutionary Martyrs Monument on the northeast section of Wangxian Slope. This moving tribute to the revolutionists who lost their lives during the Great Revolution (1924-1927), the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Liberation War (1947-1949) is a spot of reverence for many Chinese people and is decked out in flowers during the Tomb Sweeping Festival[1].

However, if you’re not historically inclined, we recommend a visit to the park’s Botanical Garden, where you can feast your eyes on a selection of over 80,000 plants. The garden contains many rare flowers, including numerous types of orchid, a 1,000-year-old banyan tree, and the largest ball cactus in Guangxi. At over 52 centimetres in diameter, the cactus is about the size of a large chair, but rest assured, no matter how tired you are, you definitely don’t want to sit on it.

If huge cannons, white dragons, and chair-sized cactuses aren’t enough to draw you in, there’s also a small amusement park, underground icehouse, numerous lovely pavilions, and a charming White Dragon restaurant. With all of these strange delights on offer, we’re sure you’ll find something in People’s Park that’ll make your day.

 

 

[1] Tomb Sweeping Festival: Sometimes referred to as Qingming Festival or Ancestor’s Day. It takes place on April 4th or 5th each year and is predominantly a day to pay respects to the deceased.

West Street

West street in Yangshuo

West Street or Xijie is the oldest and most popular street in the county town of Yangshuo. Its history stretches back over 1,400 years but in the beginning it was simply made up of a few small grocery stores. Nowadays, it is a melting pot of Western and Eastern sensibilities. Since the 1980s, West Street has developed from a modest path to a bustling hub of diverse cultures and peoples, with a myriad of Western and Chinese-style shops, cafés and restaurants. It is situated directly at the centre of Yangshuo and covers a length of 517 metres (1,696 feet) and a width of 8 metres (26 feet). The street meanders in an “S” shape from the centre of town down to the banks of the Li River, and has been paved with beautifully smooth stones, giving it the appearance of a traditional Chinese courtyard. Every year, approximately 100,000 foreign tourists tread along this well-worn path and marvel at the array of shops on offer.

This street has become particularly popular with foreign tourists’ because it boasts the greatest number of English speakers and bilingual stores in Yangshuo. Any English-speaking person can easily haggle, order food or ask for directions on West Street without having to employ a translator or resort to floundering hand gestures. Even the elderly women on the street will speak some English, and this can be particularly comforting after you’ve been travelling through China for some time. Nowadays, more than 20 of the businesses on West Street are run by foreigners who decided to settle in Yangshuo, so it’s the perfect place to meet backpackers, students, and expats in the Yangshuo community.

During the day, West Street is a shoppers’ paradise, with numerous stalls selling local craftworks, paintings, antiques, jewellery, and numerous other trinkets. There are calligraphy stores where you can have your name written in Chinese, embroidery shops where you can buy a pair of delicately embroidered silk slippers, and even bone-carving stalls where you can have your Chinese zodiac sign carved into yak bone. It’s the perfect place to pick up a few souvenirs or mementos of your journey. No matter what your heart desires, West Street will have it.

Yang Shuo west streetThere are a number of cafés and restaurants along West Street that act as a safe haven from which one can quietly while away the day. Many of these restaurants serve Western-style food and proper filter coffee, which is something you may learn to miss if you travel around China for too long! Unlike many other Chinese towns or cities, Yangshuo boasts a variety of different Western-style restaurants, including restaurants specialising in American, Italian and even German dishes. There are also several hostels and hotels on West Street, although these tend to be more expensive than others due to their central location.

At night, West Street truly comes alive, with vibrant neon lights, deafening music, and fashionably dressed bartenders beckoning you into clubs. More stalls are set up late into the evening and, unlike the calm daily traffic, by night the street is rammed wall to wall with people. Though it may not be for everyone, this makes for a particularly exciting experience. At the entrance and exit of West Street, there are small food stalls offering late night snacks and catering to a variety of appetites. From spicy fried tofu garnished in chopped spring onion to a mouth-watering suckling pig roast, you’ll be sure to find a tasty treat that’ll suit your mood.

The bars along West Street are a great place to meet and network with other tourists, backpackers, expats, and students. These bars act as social hubs in Yangshuo and oftentimes will be on the open rooftop of a hostel, meaning that you can enjoy a quiet beverage whilst marvelling at the surrounding Karst Mountains. If you fancy a little downtime after a long period of traveling, West Street is the perfect place to unwind.

 

 

Weizhou Island

Beihai Wei Island 01

The magnificent Penglai Island is a legendary place in the East China Sea, where fairies dance about the forests and immortal Tai Chi masters roam the mountains. It is an island where, if you’re lucky, you too can achieve immortality. Throughout history many powerful leaders, including Qin Shi Huang, wasted countless resources and spent their lives searching for this mythical place. If only they’d gone to the South China Sea first, then they’d have found Weizhou Island, a real paradise on earth! Weizhou was formed over 10,000 years ago by volcanic eruptions, making it the youngest and largest volcanic island in China. It is just 67 kilometres (about 36 nautical miles) from Beihai City Port and, like Beihai, benefits from luxuriously hot subtropical weather.

The island is only 6.5 kilometres from north to south, and 6 kilometres from east to west, but its unspoiled natural landscapes and thriving wildlife make it an idyllic place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The splendid coral reefs in the waters, rigid pines of the forest and plump cacti blanketing the cliffs make for a sumptuous visual feast. It’s no wonder that people thought the island was a mythical place! Over thousands of years, the numerous volcanic eruptions that have taken place on the island have helped produce unusual landforms, such as the cliffs near Nanwan Port. However, don’t be plagued by nightmarish visions of lava! There hasn’t been an eruption on Weizhou for over 7,000 years.

Considering Weizhou was formed by fire and brimstone, it seems rather odd that it is home to two of the first Catholic churches ever built in China. From 1869 to 1879, French missionaries set about building a Gothic-style Catholic church in the small fishing village of Shengtang, which is now referred to as the Weizhou Catholic Cathedral. Once it was completed, they built the Saint Maria Church in Chengzai village, meaning that you never have to go too far for Sunday Mass on this small island! These churches were built using a special type of coral rock, giving them an extraordinarily unique appearance. They are now open to visitors, although the Catholic Cathedral in Shengtang is considered the most popular. The sight of this western-style cathedral, located alongside the eastern-style Sanpo Temple, aptly portrays how international these fishing villages have become, thanks in part to tourism and in part to the historical Maritime Silk Road.

Beihai Weizhou Island02If you’re feeling a little less holy and a little more hellfire, you can always take a trip to the Volcanic Park just west of Nanwan Port. The park boasts a variety of unusual volcanic formations, including Crocodile Hill, Pirate’s Cave, and Moon Bay. There’s also a lovely little Geological Museum where visitors can learn more about how the island was formed and what types of fossils they may find scattered throughout the park.

Since it is an island, Weizhou is not without its fair share of beaches. West Beach, with its soft sand, sparkling waters, and fresh seafood barbecues, is widely considered to be the finest on the island. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a refreshingly cold beverage, frolic in the sand, indulge in some snorkelling, or go diving with an instructor and marvel at the sparkling coral reefs. You can even book a space on a glass-bottomed boat and admire the marine life from the safety of your seat. However, it is important to note that there are no lifeguards on the beach so you must be very careful when swimming or taking part in other water-sports. Along with West Beach, the Multi-coloured Beach on the east coast is not without its charm. When the sun rises on this volcanic stone beach, the sunlight reflecting off of the wet, crimson rocks looks truly spectacular.

Fishing is the main source of income for many of the locals, but there are also plentiful banana plantations littered throughout Weizhou. We recommend hiking or renting a bicycle from one of the hostels so you can explore the island and take some photographs. Just be sure not to slip on those banana peels! Once you’ve worked up a healthy appetite, you can retire to one of the villages and sample some of the freshest seafood dishes in Guangxi. There are many small eateries and restaurants scattered throughout the island and, since seafood is abundant in Weizhou, most dishes are incredibly cheap. They only vary in price depending on the rareness of the seafood, what the catch of the day is, and what the weather conditions have been like, so having dinner may start to feel like seafood roulette!

Weizhou can be easily reached from Beihai port via ferry, which departs daily at 8.30am, 11.15am, 4.00pm and 5.30pm, and takes approximately 3 hours. There are reasonably regular return ferries to Beihai or, alternatively, you could stay in one of hostels on the island. These hostels are of good quality and private, air-conditioned rooms are usually available on request.

Xieyang Island

Xieyang Island is 9 nautical miles to the southwest of Weizhou and is only a twelfth of the size. There is one small path, which leads from the north side of the island to the south, and only about 100 people call this small, isolated place home. The island has become famous for its myriad of exotic birds and its tranquil forests. Visitors to Weizhou can rent a boat to Xieyang and admire the simple, unchanged lifestyle of its locals.

beihai weizhou island

 

Beihai Silver Beach

Beihai Silver Beach 01

Who can resist a day out at the beach? The sun on your back, the soothing sound of the waves, the glittering soft sand beneath your feet, it’s the ideal way to spend a hot summer’s day. Yet, for most of us, a trip to the beach means a long drive spent anxiously waiting for the cool sea breeze and the first sweet taste of ice cream. In Beihai, Silver Beach is only 10 kilometres away from the city centre! Silver Beach is celebrated as the greatest beach in China and boasts rare grey-white quartz sand, which gives it its distinctive silvery appearance. Sparkling in the sunlight, both the silvery sands and crystal clear waters look far too tempting to pass up. After one day at Silver Beach, you may just scrap your retirement plans in Hawaii and decide to move to Beihai instead!

This wonderful white beach stretches 24 kilometres along the southernmost coast of China and varies from 30 metres to about 300 metres in width. Its popularity is in part due to its renowned safety, as the waves are particularly gentle and there are no sharks or other harmful wildlife in the water. This makes it an ideal place for parents to bring their children, as the beach is a safe haven for adults and youngsters alike. The beach is split into three sections: Beihai Silver Beach Park, Beihai Beach Park and Qiaogang Beach. The two beach parks have an admittance fee but the beach itself is free. These parks boast unusual buildings, a children’s swimming pool, a marine biology museum, an open-air dance floor, and even an exotic bird exhibit. If the beach just isn’t exciting enough for you or you’ve been out in the sun so long that you’re starting to look a bit like a lobster, you might want to take a stroll around the beach parks and enjoy the various attractions on offer.

Beihai Silver Beach02In the middle of the beach, there’s a bridge that appears to go nowhere. This bridge is known as Fairy Bridge or Immortal Bridge. According to legend, a Japanese monk had come to China on a pilgrimage and happened to be walking along Silver Beach when all of a sudden he saw a rainbow drop out of the sky. The shimmering rainbow landed in the middle of the beach and, from a distance, the monk could see two figures stood on the rainbow discussing something. The monk rushed towards the rainbow but, before he could reach the talking figures, the rainbow vanished, leaving behind only this bridge. The monk supposedly spent the rest of his days praying at this bridge, hoping to catch another glimpse of the mysterious figures. That being said, we don’t recommend spending your day out praying at the bridge.

On top of sun-bathing and swimming, Silver Beach hosts a myriad of activities that are sure to tempt you. You can indulge in a little volleyball on the sand, go snorkelling in the clear blue waters, catch the adorable sand crabs as they skitter out of their holes, or go-cart along the seafront. If you fancy passing a more leisurely day, the beach is lined with several kiosks, shops, and restaurants. Here you can purchase small souvenirs, sample some of the freshest seafood delicacies, or simply enjoy an ice cream as you watch the other visitors frolic on the sand. Just be sure not to drop your ice cream, or the sand crabs might just pinch it!

 

 

Ping’an Village

Ping'an Village 01

Ping’an Village has become by far one of the most famous locations to witness and hike up the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces of Longsheng County. It is located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) away from Guilin city and is home to over 50 families, with a population of about 200 people in total. The vast majority of people living in Ping’an are of the Zhuang ethnic minority and so it is sometimes referred to as Ping’an Zhuang Village. These Zhuang locals have been living in this area for over 600 years and their ancestors built the Longji Rice Terraces that are still in use today. These rice terraces stretch up the mountain, from 300 metres up to 1,100 metres above the sea level, and were first built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), although they were not finished until the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The rice terraces near Ping’an are considered to be the earliest and most developed in the Longji Scenic Area, which is why Ping’an is the most popular village for tourists. This has both its advantages and its pitfalls. Since Ping’an is far more tourist oriented than the other villages, there are plenty of guesthouses, restaurants and other modern amenities available there that the other villages simply aren’t equipped with. That being said, the downside of this is that Ping’an is far more crowded than the other villages so, if you want a more rugged, remote tour of the rice terraces, perhaps Ping’an is not the place for you.

Ping'sn Village 03The village of Ping’an is characterised by its 80 households, which are three-storey stilted wooden houses that have lasted for over 100 years. Like the Miao ethnic minority, the Zhuang people also refer to these houses as Diaojiaolou, although the architectural style greatly differs from that of its Miao counterpart. The Zhuang Diaojiaolou are built on flat ground, unlike those of the Miao people, and each of the three storeys will have a hemp railing. The top two storeys are supported by the large wooden pillars below and are used mainly as living spaces. The bottom or ground floor is used as a stable for domestic animals. All of these little homes, stacked next to one another in neat wooden piles, make the village of Ping’an look rather quaint and adorable.

The Zhuang people living in Ping’an still maintain many of their ethnic customs, so Ping’an is also a wonderful place to experience the daily life of the Zhuang ethnic minority. The men wear hand woven long sleeved shirts and trousers whilst the women wear white shirts, black pants and colourful cloths or wraps atop their heads. This traditional dress is far simpler than many other ethnic minorities and reflects the humble, industrious lifestyle of the Zhuang people. As you walk through the streets of Ping’an, you’ll notice that village life has remained largely the same for decades. The adults still diligently farm the fields, the children still play with their modest toys, and the elderly still sit on their doorsteps, chatting or snacking on sunflower seeds. With the backdrop of the golden rice terraces in the distance, Ping’an is truly a rural paradise.

The two main attractions in the village are the two scenic spots known as “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” and “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers”. “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” consists of seven small piles that stand separately in the middle of seven rice paddies. These seven piles are remnants from the construction of the rice paddies. There is another, empty rice paddy in the centre and, when it is filled with water, it is said to look like a small moon with the seven piles surrounding it resembling the stars. “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” are nine ridges that have branched off from the main terrace and five nearby piles leftover from their construction. The nine ridges look like nine dragons winding their way towards the Jinsha River to drink and the five piles resemble five tigers guarding the dragons and the land. These two scenic spots provide a perfect birds-eye view from which to admire and take photographs of the rice terraces billowing out across the mountains.

Ping'an Village 02From Ping’an, there are many hiking trails along the Longji Rice Terraces, the shortest of which will normally take about 2 hours. You can also hike from Ping’an to Longji Village, which takes about 2 hours, and, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can hike from Ping’an to Dazhai, which takes 5 to 6 hours. In this case, it is advisable that you stay overnight in either Ping’an or Dazhai. These hikes are a wonderful way to exercise, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and wander through the terraced fields at your own pace. These rice terraces look particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, meaning any traveller would benefit from an overnight stay in Ping’an.

Accommodation

Since Ping’an has been developed as a tourist site, the facilities and hotels in the region are much better than in other villages. The village boasts about 80 hostels and hotels, which are all of a good standard. Li An Lodge, a four-storied hotel located on top of the rice terraces near to the “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” scenic area, is considered to be the best hotel in the area. The stunning views from its balconies and its beautifully decorated rooms have made it exceedingly popular with tourists. However, the hotel only has 20 rooms and they can be quite expensive so it is important to book well in advance.

Dining

There are plenty of lovely restaurants in Ping’an that offer a variety of home-cooked, local cuisine. The most popular local dish is called Bamboo Rice and consists of roasted meat, rice, taro or pumpkin and spices that have been stuffed into a fresh bamboo tube. The bamboo tube is then filled with a small amount of water and sealed using a corn cob. The tube is roasted on an open fire until the bamboo has turned black and the ingredients are thoroughly cooked. The soft roasted rice absorbs the tender flavours of the bamboo and spices, giving this dish its distinctive flavour. Other local dishes include a kind of locally cured and preserved bacon and a spicy sauce known as Longji Spicy Chilli Sauce that is made from locally sourced chillies.

How To Get There

Ping’an is the most accessible village in the Longji Rice Terrace Scenic Area. First you need to take the express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town, which takes about 2 hours. The buses between Guilin and Longsheng are very regular and usually run at 15-minute intervals. In Longsheng you’ll need to purchase your tickets for the rice terraces. From Longsheng, you’ll have to take another bus to Ping’an Parking Lot, which should only take you about an hour. The parking lot is not actually in Ping’an so you’ll need to walk about another 20 minutes to get into the village proper. If you are only taking a day trip to Ping’an, you’ll need to arrive and leave early. The last bus from Ping’an to Longsheng departs at 4.30pm every day, so be sure not to miss it!

We recommend you bring some warmer clothes with you and a raincoat, as the rice terraces will get cooler as you ascend them and the wind makes it difficult to carry an umbrella if it rains. Please also remember to ask permission of any of the locals before taking photos of them.

Sanjiang

Sanjiang

With the stunning Rong River, Xun River and Miao River winding their way through its mountainous expanse, the name Sanjiang or “Three Rivers” is particularly befitting to this county. Located in the north of Guangxi, Sanjiang refers to both the county and county-level city, which lie on the border between Guizhou to the northwest and Hunan to the northeast. The city acts as a central hub between these three regions and is constantly alive with the hustle and bustle of travellers making their way across southern China. It is the capital of the Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County and thus over half of its population is made up of ethnically Dong people.

The city was established in 1105 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and is itself relatively unremarkable, as it is made up primarily of concrete high-rises and modern shopping districts. However, this modernity is punctuated by several Dong-style buildings, including the city’s very own drum tower. Though most of these structures were built relatively recently and were artificially aged, they are none-the-less beautiful and provide a stark contrast to the contemporary new builds. In most places, it’s “out with the old, in with the new”, but in Sanjiang it seems to be “out with the new, in with the old-looking”!

In the western part of the city, locals still hold vibrant markets where traders offer anything from fresh vegetables and handmade clothing to live chickens and discount microwaves! These markets are an organised chaos of food stalls, clothes merchants, haberdashers, fortune tellers, and the occasional street dentist. So if you need your tooth pulling out and have a loose heel on your shoe, but don’t have time to go to two places, the Sanjiang market is the place for you!

duliu river SanjiangSanjiang County encompasses several Dong villages and plays host to over 60 ancient theatrical stages, 120 wind-rain bridges, 200 drum towers, and 500 historical sites. The magnificent Wind-Rain Bridge in Chengyang, just 18 kilometres from Sanjiang City, is considered the most well-preserved of its kind, while the Mapang Drum Tower in Mapang Village, about 28 kilometres from the city, is a true masterpiece of Dong architecture that dates back to the Qing Dynasty. Yet perhaps one of Sanjiang’s greatest claims to fame is its newly built Bird’s Nest, which was designed to ape the strange beauty of its Beijing counterpart.

This architectural monolith was completed in 2010 and can be found in Guyi Town, just outside of Sanjiang City. Towering in at 27 metres (89 ft.) in height, with a diameter of 80 metres (262 ft.), this colossal stadium was built by local Dong people in their own architectural style and, like their drum towers and wind-rain bridges, was miraculously constructed without the use of nails or rivets. Dove-tailed joints are all that keep this arena together and each of its corners is bedecked with a beautiful carving of a bird; a symbol of luck in Dong culture.

Though this building may appear ancient, it seamlessly combines contemporary and traditional features in its performances. Numerous singing and dancing performances take place within its walls and are accompanied by modern lighting and sound. On the third floor, there are 66 exhibition rooms with displays about Dong folklore, customs, festive outfits, and works of art. One painting in particular, which was made by 20 local farmers and took two months to accomplish, is over 125 metres (410 ft.) long and is considered the largest of its kind in the world. After all, when it comes to art, sometimes size does matter!

 

Enjoy the amazing landscape in Sanjiang County on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Qingxiu Mountain

Qingxiu Mountain

Qingxiu Mountain is sometimes referred to as the “Green Lung” or the “Green Mountain” of Nanning, which is rather ironic considering that it is neither a lung nor a mountain. It is actually a scenic park made up of a series of 18 peaks, the highest of which reaches an altitude of just 289 metres. Although its mountains may not be the highest, or even actual mountains, Qingxiu Mountain is ranked as one of the Eight Treasured Scenic Spots of Nanning thanks to its lush tropical greenery, crystal clear lakes, and stylistically unique architecture. It is located just 5 kilometres (about 3.1 miles) southeast of downtown Nanning and has earned the title of “green lung” because, in an urban area as built-up as Nanning, it provides a welcome breath of fresh air.

The park contains a myriad of natural and manmade attractions that will both impress and baffle you. On the one hand, there are the stunning ancient walkways, ethereal natural springs, and charming tropical gardens. On the other hand, there is a Cycad Garden full of dinosaur statues, forever poised amongst the spiky plants to pounce on their hapless prey. The park is a strange and wonderful mixture of manmade wonder, natural beauty and amusing quirks that make for a perfect day out in Nanning.

At the top of the highest peak, there sits the majestic Longxiang Pagoda. The original pagoda was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) but was tragically destroyed during the Second World War. Far more tragic is the fact that the pagoda was demolished by the Chinese themselves, as they believed Japanese fighter pilots would use it to pinpoint and target Nanning. It wasn’t until 1986 that the pagoda was restored to its former glory and it now stands at an impressive 51 metres in height, making it the largest pagoda in Guangxi. Although ascending it may seem like an unnecessary trial, we strongly recommend that you climb to the top and feast your eyes on the panoramic view of Nanning on offer. This spectacular view stretches out over 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) and makes for a wonderful photograph.

Qingxiu Mountain in NanningThanks to an initiative by the local government to help solidify relations between China and South-East Asia, Qingxiu Mountain now also has a Thai Park. This park was designed by several Thai architects and boasts some magnificent structures, including an elaborate Thai-style Buddhist temple. Nestled within the verdant leaves and luminous flowers of the gardens, this temple adds an element of multiculturalism and spiritualism to the park. If you’re interested in religious iconography, Qingxiu Mountain boasts the largest supine jade Buddha in Southeast Asia and the largest sitting bronze statue of the Chinese hero Guan Yu[1] in the country. They are both located in Sanbao Hall, where you’ll also find some sacred images and idols of deities from the Zhuang ethnic minority.

Just east of Sanbao Hall, you’ll find the still, sparkling waters of Lake Yaochi. On the granite cliff to the east of the lake, there are intricate engravings of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend, and surrounding the lake there is an orchard of delicate peach trees. Amid these cherry pink trees, with the deities towering above you and the glittering lake below, you’ll find it easy to lose yourself and while away an afternoon in contemplative thought. Or perhaps just settle down to a lovely picnic! Tianchi, the other manmade lake, is equally as beautiful and features the opportunity to feed koi carp. These ravenous little fish are sure to amuse and delight you as they jump and splash in the water to reach the tasty treats.

[1] Guan Yu: Sometimes referred to as Guan Gong and Guan Di for his various titles. He was a military general that played an instrumental role in the collapse of the Eastern Han Dynasty during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280).

Jinkeng Red Yao Terraced Fields

Jinkeng Red Yao Terraced Fields

The Jinkeng Terraces are the lesser known, less tourist oriented portion of the Longji Rice Terraces Scenic Area. Jinkeng is made up of several small villages, including Dazhai, Tiantou, Zhuangjie, Xinzhai and Xiaozhai, with Dazhai and Tiantou being considered the most scenic. The Jinkeng portion of the rice terraces is actually much larger than that of Ping’an village or Longji Ancient Zhuang Village but, because of the poor condition of the roads leading into the villages, it has yet to become as popular with tourists. The Jinkeng Terraces stretch up the mountains from 800 metres to a colossal 1,180 metres above sea level and their highest mountain, Fupingbao, is 1,900 metres at its peak. The hiking opportunities in Jinkeng are tremendous and we strongly recommend anyone looking for an adventure holiday in the rice terraces to opt for the villages of Dazhai or Tiantou as their base.

The main scenic spots in Jinkeng are Xishan Shaoyue or “Musical West Hill”, Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces, and Golden Buddha Peak. Xishan Shaoyue is the first viewing platform on the mountains and offers a wonderful vantage point of the rice terraces. It is the easiest of the three scenic spots to get to and should only take about 2 hours to reach on foot. It’s a superb place to watch the sun rise and set over the rice terraces and it offers the broadest view of the Jinkeng Terraced Fields. Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces is near to Xishan Shaoyue and there is a well-kept path on a gentle gradient leading to it so it is fairly easy to reach on foot. This area is particularly impressive due to the sheer number of rice terraces carved out of the mountains below, which perfectly exhibit the industrious work of the farmers who built them. It also offers an ideal view of the Yao villages below and is considered the perfect place to watch the sunrise.

Golden Buddha Peak is the only scenic spot that has cable car access in the Longji Scenic Area and this is simply because it is so far away! The cableway is about 1,580 metres long and takes just 20 minutes to reach the peak, although you do have to pay extra to ride the cable car. Otherwise, it’s about a 3 hour hike to reach the top, but this hike does reward you with stunning views of the rice terraces as you ascend the mountain. Golden Buddha Peak is considered the best scenic spot in Jinkeng and offers the most spectacular views of the rice terraces, particularly at sunset. If you’re feeling adventurous or you’re making an overnight stay in Dazhai or Tiantou, we strongly recommend taking the hike up the Golden Buddha Peak. Trust us, watching the sun set across the cascading mountains is a more than suitable reward.

The Jinkeng Red Yao Terraces are so named because the majority of the villages in the Jinkeng area are home to the Red Yao ethnic minority. These are a branch of the Yao ethnic minority that are named for their traditional dress. On festival occasions, the Red Yao women will wear a vibrant red coat and black pleated skirt, hence the name “Red” Yao. Yao women are also famous for growing their hair long and the best place to witness this unusual tradition is in nearby Huangluo Village.

The best time to visit the Jinkeng Rice Terraces is between April and late October, as this is when the farmers will be planting the rice. Each season affords different views of the rice terraces, so choose when you want to go carefully!

Dazhai (大寨)

JInkeng Dazhai“Dazhai” literally means “Large Village” in Chinese and, unsurprisingly, Dazhai is one of the largest villages in the Jinkeng area. Over 1,000 people live in the village of Dazhai and over 98% of them are from the Yao ethnic minority. Dazhai is far less crowded than Ping’an but is still reasonably well-equipped for tourism. There are just over 30 hotels and hostels in Dazhai and a number of restaurants. Although these hotels tend to be wooden and are not equipped with as many modern amenities as those in Ping’an, they offer a far more rustic feel and make you feel as though you are truly part of the village. On top of visiting the rice terraces, many of the local Yao people in Dazhai will gladly welcome you into their home and offer a glimpse of their simple, rural lifestyle.

Tiantou (田头)

“Tiantou” literally means “Head of the Fields” or “Farms” in Chinese and this aptly demonstrates the rustic atmosphere of this small village. Although Tiantou is smaller than Dazhai, it is located far closer to Xishan Shaoyue and Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces. There are a handful of hotels in Tiantou, which make it the perfect place for an overnight stay should you wish to catch the sunrise at either of these scenic spots.

Quanjinglou or “Panorama Lodge” is considered to be the best hotel in the Jinkeng area and can be reached from both Dazhai and Tiantou. It is located not far from the Xishan Shaoyue scenic spot and has 26 rooms, which all offer outstanding views of the rice terraces.

bamboo-tube riceDining

Like Ping’an, the local cuisine in Dazhai and Tiantou is simple. Popular local dishes include bamboo-tube rice, smoked bacon fried with bamboo shoots, braised chicken, and fresh vegetables fried in oil. Many of the ingredients for the dishes will be locally sourced and taste incredibly fresh. A handful of restaurants and guesthouses in the area will offer some simple Western food, such as pizza or French fries.

How To Get There

You first need to take the express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town, which takes about 2 hours. The buses between Guilin and Longsheng are very regular and usually run at 15 minute intervals. In Longsheng you’ll need to purchase your tickets for the rice terraces. From Longsheng, you’ll need to take a bus to Dazhai Parking Lot, which can take up to 2 hours. At the parking lot, you can either make the short walk to Dazhai or walk to Tiantou, which takes about half an hour. Please be advised that the last bus back to Longsheng leaves from Dazhai Parking Lot at 4pm every day, so if you’re taking a daytrip to the rice terraces then you should aim to arrive and leave early.